Jordan Schroeder in: how to win faceoffs and influence zone starts

When David Booth got hurt at the Canucks’ abbreviated, two-scrimmage preseason, I opined that this spelled the end of Jordan Schroeder’s chances to be the Canucks’ second-line centre on opening night. My theory: Schroeder might have had a shot when he would be skating between two veterans in Booth and Mason Raymond  – much like Cody Hodgson did the year before, beating out Ebbett in training camp and lining up between Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm on day one — but with the young’un Zack Kassian stepping up to fill in for Booth, I suspected Vigneault would be uncomfortable doubling down on inexperience on that line by making Schroeder its centre. Hence, safe, forgettable Andrew Ebbett had the edge.

I got that one right.

Since then, however, it’s become clear that Alain Vigneault didn’t. Ebbett was quiet through the first two games of the season — a little too quiet. Quiet enough that the Canucks eventually called Schroeder back. In the Canucks’ third game, Schroeder drew in and Ebbett drew out.

But then Manny Malhotra’s wife gave birth to a baby boy, and Malhotra stepped away from the team for two games, leaving Vigneault with no choice but to dress both Ebbett and Schroeder. What followed was yet another two-game showdown between Ebbett and Schroeder for a middle-six centre job. This time, Booth or no Booth, Schroeder won it clean.

Speaking of winning clean, it was the faceoff circle where Schroeder really gained the edge.

Schroeder’s got a faceoff win percentage of 50% through four games, with 23 wins and 23 losses. But it gets a little better when you look at his numbers in the defensive zone: he’s 9-for 14, largely on the strength of a 5-for-8 showing versus Anaheim, and a 3-for-5 performance Monday in LA.

What’s most surprising about those strong early returns is that Schroeder’s had the opportunity to put them up. Alain Vigneault is one of the most obsessive coaches in the NHL when it comes to faceoffs, especially ones that take place inside the Canucks’ blueline. Winning those draws has been Manny Malhotra’s job almost exclusively for the past two seasons. Vigneault doesn’t put just anyone there, and, unless something has gone wrong, he definitely doesn’t deploy anybody he doesn’t trust.

So how did Schroeder even get the opportunity to earn Vigneault’s trust?

Partly because something went wrong. Schroeder didn’t see a single defensive zone faceoff in his NHL debut, which is about what you’d expect to see from a rookie under Alain Vigneault. But everything came together for Schroeder in his second game, a 5-0 drubbing of the Anaheim Ducks. With Manny Malhotra off being a Dad and Maxim Lapierre struggling through a sore groin that’s clearly hampering his ability to win defensive zone faceoffs, Vigneault gave Schroeder 8. (It helped that the Canucks were leading comfortably, so there wasn’t a lot of risk.) Schroeder won 5.

Schroeder’s good fortune continued in his third game versus the Sharks. He was only given one defensive zone faceoff, but he won it. Andrew Ebbett won just one defensive zone faceoff as well. The problem? Ebbett took eight.

Couple that with Schroeder showing a little more offensively, and you can see why, by his fourth game, with Malhotra returning, Vigneault had enough trust in Schroeder defensively to keep him in the lineup over Ebbett.

Now, it’s a little too early to say Schroeder is definitively a good faceoff man, a lesson I learned early last season. I opened this post with an anecdote about something I got right, so here’s something I got really, really wrong:

Two games into the 2011-12 season, I posited that Cody Hodgson, once voted the best faceoff man in the OHL, was beginning to show the same prowess at the NHL level. He’d had a strong first two games as well as a strong preseason at the dot. Through seven games total, he was winning 52.0%. It was my opinion that Hodgson would continue to be on the right side of 50.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Hodgson struggled in the faceoff circle pretty much from then on. Eventually, it got so bad Alain Vigneault didn’t know what to do with him. For a while, Vigneault was lining up Hodgson with Malhotra and having Malhotra come in and take the draw before shifting back over to the wing. The problem only went away in January, when the Canucks began showcasing Hodgson for a trade and starting him primarily in the offensive zone, where a lost faceoff didn’t hurt nearly as much.

Hodgson finished that year with a mediocre 46.3 win percentage, and seven games into 2013, he appears to be trending in the wrong direction. Cody has won just 44 of 116 faceoffs for Buffalo this year, good for an abysmal win percentage of 37.9, one of the worst in the entire league.

Lucky for Hodgson, Lindy Ruff doesn’t seem to care about faceoffs as much as Vigneault does. Jochen Hecht takes the bulk of the team’s faceoffs on the penalty kill. He’s 2-for-18 on these draws. And until Tuesday night versus Toronto, Steve Ott, Buffalo’s best faceoff man, had only taken 29 faceoffs, even though the team was hovering around 40% in the circle, one of the worst in the league. When Ruff finally used Ott correctly in the Sabres’ 4-3 overtime loss, he responded by winning 16 of 19 draws.

But if you think Ruff has fully come around on faceoffs, consider that Hodgson went just 6-for-19 in the same game. Safe to say there’s no way Hodgson’s getting 19 faceoffs on the Canucks.

Not while Alain Vigneault is coaching, and not while the Canucks have more than one decent faceoff man. Right now, they have three, and through his first week in the NHL, Schroeder has been one of them.

Tags: , ,

1 Comment

  1. dylan
    February 1, 2013

    this is why i love you guys. great insight.

    ps i missed you :(

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)